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When it comes to working out, there’s simply no exercise more challenging than a burpee. Which, if you think about it, is pretty interesting. Unlike weight lifting exercises, burpees are performed with nothing but your body weight and yet, they’re far and wide considered to be the best of the best (or the worst of the worst, depending on which side of the coin you're looking at) for strengthening your body and increasing your capacity to exercise. But with that being said, proper form is extremely important. Any fitness professional will tell you that the quality of your repetitions is more important than the quantity of repetitions, and burpees are no different. Improper form can lead to a multitude of injuries, and can make the exercise less-effective. So ahead, we're sharing exactly how to do burpees, their benefits, and more.
What Are Burpees?
Burpees are a compound exercise that use only your body weight. The move involves a quick transition from standing to lying on your stomach by placing your hands on the ground, jumping your feet back into plank position, and then laying on your stomach. You then do the inverse of these moves to stand back up.
As Tone It Up trainer Chyna Bardarson explains it, a burpee is a two-part exercise going from a push-up to a jump squat. Tone It Up trainer Ariel Belgrave tacks onto this, noting that since burpees are a compound exercise, they hit almost every major muscle group in your body. “In a single rep, you are working your quads, hamstrings, glutes, back, core, chest, shoulder, and arms,” she explains. “The high-intensity of burpees will also leave your body burning calories even after the workout is done (aka the afterburn effect).”
As with most exercises, there are a few different twists on the traditional burpee, like adding a punch when you stand up, adding a jump when you stand up, or adding a push-up after you lay down. All are effective workouts, and all are still burpees!
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The Benefits of Burpees
- They get your heart rate up. Thanks to the fast movement across multiple planes (read: from standing to lying down), burpees are a fab form of cardio. This, of course, means that the often-complained-about exercise works wonders to get your heart pumping. “This cardio kick will not only strengthen your heart but helps reduce blood pressure, too,” Belgrave says.
- They make you stronger. Thanks to being a compound exercise that works just about every muscle in your body, burpees are full-body moves that will make you stronger from head to toe. “Because you are engaging almost every major muscle group at once, burpees will help you build strength and gain body definition,” Belgrave explains. “This strength will help you perform better at everyday activities, such as carrying groceries, lifting laundry, rearranging furniture, or even playing with your kids at the playground.”
- You can do them anywhere. Unlike some exercises that require expensive equipment or loads of room to perform, burpees can be done virtually anywhere. “It doesn’t matter if you are traveling, don’t have access to a gym, or working out outdoors—all you need is your body to do them,” Belgrave exclaims.
- You can add them to any workout. Since burpees are a full-body movement, they can be added to any workout. “Burpees are adaptable and dynamic, which makes them a perfect addition to any workout,” Belgrave says. “Whether you are doing a HIIT session, finishing up a sweaty run, or getting in a yoga flow—you can add burpees into your workout.”
- Perfecting form takes time. Burpees are known for being difficult and a big part of that is because, since they use just about every muscle in your body, form can fluctuate until certain areas of the body are strong enough to support the movement. But remember: Practice makes perfect and the more burpees you do, the stronger you’ll get, and the better your form will become.
- Burpees are prone to causing lower-back pain. According to Bardarson, lower back pain is a common drawback of burpees. “A specific injury to be mindful of is harming your lower back,” she says. “Poor form can lead to lower back pain if you allow your hips to sink when jumping back into the push-up position.”
The Right Way to do a Burpee
Below you’ll find instructions for how to do a traditional burpee plus two sets of step-by-step instructions for alternate versions of the burpee. Pick your poison. And, remember, you can find more variations, as well as workouts supplemented with burpees in the Tone It Up App.
- Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands by your sides.
- In one motion, squat down and place your palms on the floor in front of your feet.
- Lean forward, so your weight is on your hands while jumping your legs out behind you until your toes are on the floor. Your body should form a straight line, and you will be at the top of a push-up position.
- Complete 1 full push up.
- Jump your feet up behind your hands.
- Explosively push through your heels and into a jump.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- Place your hands on the ground and hop your feet back to come into a high plank position.
- Lower your chest all the way down to the ground.
- Next, press back up and hop your legs forward to meet your hands.
- Come up to a squat position and hold as you jab left, then jab right.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- Place your hands on the ground and jump your feet back to reach a high plank position.
- Lower all the way down.
- Press back up to plank and jump your feet under your center coming up to a low squat.
- Next, jump your feet out wide as you rotate 90 degrees, reaching your arms to both sides for balance. “This is your surfer stance!” Belgrave exclaims.
- Jump back to center and repeat on the other side.
How to Modify Burpees When You're Getting Started
If you find burpees to be insanely difficult, don’t sweat it. These are definitely an advanced exercise, and forcing your body to perform more than what it's trained to do is a quick way to injure yourself. If you're a beginner, then first of all, welcome to your fitness journey! You'll be amazed at what your body is capable of doing after a relatively short amount of training time. Secondly, keep in mind that you can modify any exercise better fit your lifestyle and fitness level.
Remove Jumping Movements
Belgrave says that one way to make burpees easier is to remove the jumping movements and move slower through the steps until you master the form. So bend over and put your hands on the ground, then walk your feet back into a plank position one at a time, then lower down and do the opposite on your way back up. Once you're confident in your footing and capacity to perform this exercise with proper form, try to move a little faster.
Drop Knees During Pushup
Bardarson says another way to simplify the exercise is to drop your knees when doing the push-up portion of the exercise. If you find holding the plank difficult, drop your knees and perform a modified pushup instead. You can even switch to this version after a few regular burpees if the pushup from plank becomes too difficult.
Take Out the Pushup
Alternatively, you can take the pushup step out entirely. Perform the burpee up to the lowering phase from the plank and pop right back up into a new burpee. You'll still hit your shoulder, core, and legs with a little less emphasis on your chest, back, and triceps. Easy-peasy. (Or, at the very least, easier.)
How to Level Up Your Burpees When You're Ready
On the other end of the spectrum—after you’ve mastered your form and become a burpee pro—you may be in search of ways to elevate your new favorite move. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to do so.
Use Resistance Bands
“My favorite ways to level up my burpees are to add resistance bands either right above my knees or towards my ankle,” Bardarson says. “This will maximize those booty gains!” Use a loop type band for this exercise, and be sure to push your knees out, not letting them collapse inwards as you squat. Just be careful not to trip!
Add A Box Jump
Another advancement is to add a plyo box or step, or try them using a single leg—but make sure your balance is 100 before opting for those advancements. “You can also replace the 'regular jump' with a jump variation (like a star jump or tuck jump),” Belgrave adds.
Include A BOSU Ball
Increase the difficulty by adding in a balance and coordination challenge with a BOSU ball. Place the ball upside down under your hands to perform your pushup. Your core will work overtime with this version as it works to keep you stable. Just be sure to take it slow if you aren't used to doing pushups with a BOSU. Faceplanting is not fun (trust me!).
Add resistance to the movement by using a pair of dumbbells in each hand. Keep it light since this exercise is performed quickly. It's important to brace your core and keep perfect form here. Try keeping the dumbbells in your hands through the whole movement, even as you complete your pushup. If performing the jump is too difficult with dumbbells, leave that part out and work your way up to it.